On Sunday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Sixers are “prepared to do whatever it takes” to sign coveted superstar and soon-to-be free agent LeBron James. Philadelphia has been frequently mentioned on the list of potential destinations for the four-time MVP, and it seems that the organization is gearing up to make a serious campaign for LeBron this summer.
Many are speculating whether LeBron would go to Philly, but it bothers me that people aren’t taking the time to wonder, should he go to Philly? In essence, the national conversation is focused on how the Sixers could make the necessary moves to attract and sign LeBron James without talking about whether they’re the best, or even a good destination for him. We seem to have assumed and accepted that adding LeBron to a Sixers team that already won 52 games last year would instantly make them better than the Warriors, who are widely accepted as the standard threshold for winning a championship.
When you look closely and evaluate LeBron’s fit with the Sixers from both a basketball perspective, and within the scope of the team’s long-term strategy, there are plenty of concerns with this potential signing that would make the move less than ideal for both sides.
Looking at LeBron’s fit, there’s one glaring issue, and it’s that the Sixers already have a point-forward in Ben Simmons. The offensive system that has worked so well for the Sixers features Simmons as a primary ball-handler, often surrounding him with 4 shooters. Ben Simmons was excellent in this role this season, leading the Sixers to a 16-game winning streak, and a 4-1 first round victory over Dwyane Wade and the Heat.
However, his offensive shortcomings, particularly off the ball, were thoroughly exposed by the Celtics’ defense in the second round. His complete lack of shooting abilities allowed Al Horford to stay back in the paint and disrupt the Sixers’ offensive flow.
LeBron, as is the case for any other team in the NBA, would immediately become the team’s best player and demand the ball. This means Simmons would have to play off the ball and essentially function as a big man, severely limiting the capabilities that make him a successful player. Simmons is a great player, but would he be able to maximize his talents playing in a role similar to what Tristan Thompson plays for the Cavaliers right now?
They could also make the bold move to play LeBron as a traditional power forward and use him as an off-ball scoring threat, but this too would clog up the inside and replace one of the shooters that add to Simmons’ effectiveness on drives to the basket. J.J. Redick was one of these shooters, and will enter unrestricted free agency after making $23 million this season. Redick earned his large paycheck, though, averaging 17.1 points per game on 42% on threes and 90% from the free-throw line, one of the best in the league in both categories. His influence as a long-range threat will be greatly missed for the Sixers next season, especially if they try the LeBron experiment.
To further complicate the problem, Markelle Fultz, who is often regarded as one of the building blocks that will make the Sixers scary for the rest of the league, has done little to convince anyone that he is a capable shooter. A future starting lineup with LeBron and all the core “Process” players would feature LeBron, Simmons, Fultz, and center Joel Embiid, who shot just 30.8% on threes last year. The lack of spacing would be problematic, and very difficult to overlook for LeBron when he makes his decision.
Forget for a second about all the spacing issues that would make this a disaster for LeBron’s quest for another title, does this even make sense for the Sixers? Wouldn’t signing an all-time great player like LeBron fly in the face of everything The Process is grounded on? The Sixers, and the entire city of Philadelphia it seems, are ready to abandon everything that got them to this 52-win season. They expect that LeBron is automatically going to bring them a championship, with no consideration for what happens if he fails and leaves for greener pastures.
If the end goal of Sam Hinkie’s master plan was to win 52 games and win a single playoff series over the Miami Heat, then congratulations Philly, The Process is complete. You’ve done it! The reality is if they continue to build around their core of Embiid, Simmons, and even Fultz, they can continue The Process and accomplish so much more. But LeBron would change all of that, and maybe not for the better.